Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si…”
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, February 11-14, 2016
In the programme notes for “…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si si si…” (“Like moss on a stone”), Pina Bausch’s final work before her sudden, unexpected death in 2009, dance writer Sarah Crompton insists the piece is “open to infinite interpretation,” that “[nothing] should be seen as explicit,” even the apparent allusions to Chile, where the German choreographer’s troupe took up temporary residence and conceived it as part of its famous World Cities series. Categorical interpretations might be off the table, but an abstract spirit of voyage and discovery does seem to infuse “Como el musguito,” inserting itself, however implicitly, in the dancers’ serene demeanour, which echoes hazy days under a hot sun, and the knowing glances they share, reverberations of the personal bonds they’ve cultivated during their journey as a company in the years since Bausch’s death. It’s certainly perceptible in their stated determination to, as company member Jonathan Fredrickson tells Crompton, “encapsulate what [the piece] has become, not where it came from.”
The two-hour work, a velvety swirl of dance and theatre, teases out the infinite absurdities and pleasures of sexual desire. It’s presented as a montage of bite-size vignettes, with a rotating cast of nine women and five men wafting in and out to play goddesses and lotharios, lovers and friends. There’s a dreamy, borderline surreal quality to the sketches, which are eccentric but stop short of bizarre—sweetly odd-ball, if you will, rather than aggressively confusing.
Together they form a tender, wistful offering—a noticeable departure from the early Bausch canon, where storm and fury reign supreme. The female ensemble, clad in floor-length gowns, makes for a particularly whimsical sight, a whirl of silk and chiffon and flowing tresses. The men, meanwhile, are a vision of savoir faire, gliding in to sneak kisses and sweep the women off their feet. None of this is to say “Como el musguito” lacks bite, though: its sweet moments are punctuated with prickles of power imbalance and gender-bending tension. The men toss corks across the floor, ignoring the women struggling to clean them up. A woman tugs at her floofy dress and insists “I’m not sweet.” A man struts across the stage in nothing but stilettos and a thigh-skimming blazer.
Still, comedy is by and large the modus operandi here, and charming, daffy comedy at that. One skit sees a woman instruct two muscular men to take off their shirts and perform push-ups while she claps in delight. In another, a man constructs an elaborate series of distractions so he can kiss another man’s date behind his back. Much of the material is nonsensical, and all the funnier for it. A woman cleans the eyeglasses of a front-row audience member; a cast member extols the virtues of her childhood pet fish; the whole ensemble lines up and preens each other’s hair. The most captivating scenes are the ones in which a potentially dark read underlines the comedy. A woman continues to style herself, steadily brushing her hair and applying makeup, while a bottle of water is poured on her head—is this a straightforward gag or subtle commentary on harmful beauty pressures? The female cast members one by one accept a tide of effusive compliments from an older man who excitedly grabs at their cheeks and deems each one “mas linda” than the last—do their close-lipped smiles reflect genuine gratitude or reluctant civility?
Factor in Bausch’s vigorous choreography and it’s even clearer how an oblique piece like this can hold an audience’s attention. Smooth, articulate sequences of scooping arms and delicately arched backs are revved up with strident blasts of heat: furious rolls, splayed legs, squiggly, snaking postures. In the punchier segments, costumes and hair become part of the choreography, with skirts and locks in flux. The extensive crop of props—food, drinks, cigarettes, ropes, rags, even a tightrope—occasionally distracts but mostly delights.
As company member Anna Wehsarg notes in the programme, “the extraordinary thing” about Bausch’s work is that “everybody everywhere can see something inside it. This is her genius, the talent to find a language which everybody can discover and feel things.” “Como el musguito” is certainly that—a grab-bag of universal feelings, from joy and giddiness to melancholy and longing. It may not be Bausch’s slickest or most acclaimed piece, but at its heart it’s a celebration of life and love —a perfect elegy for the vivacious dancemaker if you ask me.
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